Song Sparrow

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Image:Song sparrow.JPG

Common Name: Song Sparrow
Scientific Name: Melospiza melodia

Size: 4.7-6.7 inches (12-17cm)

Habitat: North America; the range is continuous from the Aleutians to the eastern United States. There’s also an isolated population that lives on the plateau of central Mexico, about 900 miles from the next closest population.

Song sparrows are found in a large variety of open habitats, including tidal marshes, arctic grasslands, desert scrub, pinyon pine forests, aspen parklands, prairie shelterbelts, Pacific rain forest, chaparral, agricultural fields, overgrown pastures, freshwater marsh and lake edges, forest edges, and suburbs. You may also find Song Sparrows in deciduous or mixed woodlands.

Status: Least concern. Global Population: 54,000,000 mature individuals. Widespread and common across most of North America. Song Sparrows have vanished from two islands off Southern California, the result of more frequent fires and introduced hares altering the sparrows’ habitat. Wetland losses in the San Francisco Bay area have meant declining populations of a saltmarsh race of the Song Sparrow in that area.

Diet: Seeds and fruits, supplemented by many kinds of invertebrates in summer. Prey include weevils, leaf beetles, ground beetles, caterpillars, dragonflies, grasshoppers, midges, craneflies, spiders, snails, and earthworms. Plant foods include buckwheat, ragweed, clover, sunflower, wheat, rice, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, and wild cherries. Food types vary greatly depending on what’s common across the Song Sparrow’s extensive range. In British Columbia, Song Sparrows have even been observed picking at the droppings of Glaucous-winged Gulls.

Song Sparrows walk or hop on the ground and flit or hop through branches, grass, and weeds. Song Sparrows stay low and forage secretively. In fall, juvenile Song Sparrows may band together in loose flocks around berry trees or water sources. Flight is direct and low on broad, rounded wings. Often flies only short distances between perches or to cover, characteristically pumping the tail downward as it flies.

Breeding: Song Sparrows of different areas can look surprisingly different. The Song Sparrows of the Desert Southwest are pale, while those in the Pacific Northwest are dark and heavily streaked. Song Sparrows of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands chain are even darker, and they’re huge: one-third longer than the eastern birds, and weighing twice as much. The populations in Mexico have white throats and chests with black streaks.

Males come to exposed perches, including limbs of small trees, to sing. Courting birds fly together, fluttering their wings, with tails cocked up and legs dangling. Song Sparrows are primarily monogamous, but up to 20 percent of all Song Sparrows sire young with multiple mates each breeding season. Song Sparrow pairs search for nest sites together. Nest sites are usually hidden in grasses or weeds, sometimes placed on the ground and occasionally as high as 15 feet; often near water. Not afraid of human habitation, Song Sparrows may nest close to houses, in flower beds.

The female builds the nest, working mainly during the morning. It’s a simple, sturdy cup made of loose grasses, weeds, and bark on the outsides, then lined more tidily with grasses, rootlets, and animal hair. Construction takes about 4 days. The finished nest is 4-8 inches across (2-2.5 inches for the inside of the cup), and 2.5-4 inches deep.

Cool Facts: Some scientists think that Song Sparrows of wet, coastal areas have darker plumage as a defense against feather mites and other decay agents that thrive in humid climates. The darker plumage contains more of a pigment called melanin, which makes feathers tougher and harder to degrade than lighter, unpigmented feathers.

Song Sparrows seem to have a clear idea of what makes a good nest. Field researchers working for many years on the same parcels of land have noticed that some choice spots – the base of a rose bush, or a particular hollow under a hummock of grass, for example – get used over and over again, even when entirely new birds take over the territory.

Despite the large differences in size and coloration across the Song Sparrow’s range, genetic divergence is low. High rates of immigration and emigration may keep populations genetically similar, while local selective conditions maintain the physical differences.

Like many other songbirds, the male Song Sparrow uses its song to attract mates as well as defend its territory. Laboratory studies have shown that the female Song Sparrow is attracted not just to the song itself, but to how well it reflects the ability of the male to learn. Males that used more learned components in their songs and that better matched their song tutors (the adult bird they learned their songs from) were preferred.

The Song Sparrow, like most other North American breeding birds, uses increasing day length as a cue for when to come into breeding condition. But, other cues can be important too, such as local temperature and food abundance. A study found that male Song Sparrows from the coast of Washington state came into breeding condition two months earlier than Song Sparrows in the nearby mountains, where the daylight changes were the same, but temperatures were cooler and trees budded out two months later.

Song Sparrows normally only lay one clutch of eggs per breeding season; however, in exceptional circumstances, such as loss of clutches from predation or an excess of resources, Song Sparrows have been recorded laying as many as seven clutches in a single breeding season and successfully rearing up to four clutches.

The oldest known Song Sparrow lived to be 11 years, 4 months old.


Found in Songbird ReMix Cool 'n' Unusual Birds 3

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